“Privacy” Laws Handcuff Police Searching for Murderers

Helen Smith writes about how California privacy laws kept police from searching for potential suspects in the killing of a psychologist.  Overlawyered discusses the possible role of the federal medical privacy law HIPAA in delaying the apprehension of a mental patient who killed a New York therapist.

California’s privacy laws restrict not just the government, but the freedom of private parties.  Even the California state constitution’s privacy guarantees have been held by state courts to restrict private entities like employers, requiring them to turn a blind eye to undesirable employee characteristics that are relevant to hiring decisions.  So private employers risk lawsuits by the ACLU and its allies for attempting to exercise their freedom of contract.

That’s a very different philosophy than the federal Constitution, whose privacy guarantees only restrict government entities. (Federal statutes like HIPAA and FERPA are another story: They do bind private institutions, resulting in billions of dollars’ worth of red tape and harm to patients’ family members and next-of-kin).

Massachusetts’s insane privacy laws protect the “privacy” of kidnappers calling in a ransom demand and police abusing motorists, criminalizing citizens’ taping of such crimes. That infringes on civil liberties and First Amendment rights.